For fiscal 2022, a proposed combined operating budget of $ 229.31 million includes increases for Tuscaloosa employees and rate increases for the city’s water and sewer customers.
But Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, for the first time since at least the 1980s, has presented an ambitious and far-reaching budget proposal that includes millions of capital spending plans – some spanning at least 10 years – in this year’s annual presentation to City Council.
“The budget that I present to you, I can say – without a doubt, during my tenure with this great, great city – has the best analysis and depth of thought and forecasting that I have seen in my career,” Maddox said. .
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During what served as City Budget 101 for freshman council members, as well as District 4 Councilor Lee Busby, the new chairman of the council’s finance committee, Maddox rolled out a massive municipal spending plan. which, for some, might take longer. more than a month to digest.
But it is okay. Council is only legally required to adopt balanced operating budgets for the proposed general fund of $ 174.73 million and $ 54.58 million for the water and sewer fund.
The income of the General Fund for fiscal year 2022 is set at a level equal to what is expected to be collected by the end of September 30 of fiscal year 2021.
The black cloud of COVID
Last year, with the dark cloud of COVID-19 threatening the city’s finances, Maddox proposed what he described as a “conservative” budget of about $ 10 million less than the spending plan of fiscal year 2019.
But revenues have behaved better than expected – nearly 11% better, according to city hall data – but the mayor does not expect a repeat of this level of growth for fiscal year 2022, including the future. Financial remains uncertain as hospitals continue to fill up amid the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant.
“We do not anticipate any significant growth in our General Fund revenue budget,” Maddox said.
On the Water and Sewer Fund side, revenues should be supported by an 8% increase in water and sewer tariffs for all customers.
This comes from a planned 2% annual increase passed by city council in fiscal 2019, as well as another 6% increase that Maddox and city staff are proposing to start bolstering the operational funds of the city. water and sewage system to improve system infrastructure and treatment facilities over the next decade.
The mayor showed data indicating that the growth in the city’s water and sewer tariffs diverged from the national consumer price index in the early 2010s, as residents of Tuscaloosa grappled with the effects. the economic downturn of 2008 and, three years later, the devastating effects of the tornado of April 27, 2011.
City leaders at the time opted to cut back on their constituents’ spending where they could, but this well-intentioned approach resulted in a shortage of revenue needed to support water and water supply operations. sewer, Maddox said.
“In these intervening years we’ve fallen behind,” Maddox said. “So you can see for us, it’s important for us to catch up.”
The mayor noted that this year’s operating budgets contain approximately $ 748,307 in staff cost reductions from the previous year through the elimination or reclassification of seven municipal jobs, but also include an adjustment to the 2.5% cost of living for the city’s remaining employees which amounts to a financial commitment of over $ 2.2 million.
However, the proposed budget does not contain any proposed step increases for municipal workers, increases that have been granted nine times since 2006.
However, increases could come for public safety workers, thanks to a proposed realignment of the wages and pension plan of the city’s police officers and firefighters.
The detailed proposal still needs to be approved by city council, but if approved, it will increase the public security salary based on a police or firefighter’s years of service, not rank.
This was of particular concern to City Councilor John Faile, a retired Tuscaloosa police officer, who said he got promoted under a previous public safety pay plan and lost a dime on his hourly pay.
“Right now we have people who don’t want a promotion because they’re not getting the extra money out of it,” Faile said.
That could mean more than $ 2.4 million in its first year, if implemented on April 1 as the mayor is proposing, and an additional $ 3.75 million between fiscal years 2023-2025.
The mayor proposed a way to pay for these costs, using a combination of Elevate Tuscaloosa funds – which is expected to generate $ 26.66 million in sales tax revenue in fiscal 2022 – as well as network revenue from city traffic light cameras and the product of two new sources of income.
These proposed new revenue streams include a $ 1 per ticket fee for paid events of more than 1,000 people where alcohol is sold, such as a concert at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, and a 3% fee on ensembles. of student accommodation with more than 200 beds.
About 20 of these resorts already pay a 1% rental fee on the revenue generated by any rental property in Tuscaloosa, but that additional 2% charge on these properties alone could add up to over $ 6.8 million over the past four next years, if they are adopted.
“We want the best trained and disciplined police and firefighter to protect our community,” Maddox said. “You can look across the country and see where communities have suffered from not having a well trained and experienced police force. “
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This, along with many other aspects of the mayor’s spending proposal, is expected to be debated, discussed and possibly amended over the next three weeks by council.
Budget hearing times are scheduled for the next three Tuesdays – August 31, September 7, and September 14 – before council votes on the adoption of the Fiscal 2022 operating budgets on September 21.
And Busby, a retired Navy colonel who will for the first time oversee city council’s review of the proposed city budget, reminded first-term councilors and senior councilors that their decisions will now have lasting effects in the future.
“Know that when we make financial decisions, we are – in a way – laying the groundwork for something to happen. … Just be aware of this, ”Busby said. “With every step we take or don’t do, we are setting the stage for the next three, four or five years.
“These are the compromises.”
Contact Jason Morton at [email protected].